This past February we started a new women’s group. Since we have so many women’s groups, we ask each group of women to give us a name to describe themselves. Ahlan is the name the group chose. Ahlan, you may know, means “welcome” in Arabic . They chose this name to also describe them in an acronym – an Attitude of Hope, Love and Non-Violence. It is our genuine hope to guide these wonderful ladies to just that goal!
Twenty-eight women joined this new group. At the time of our first meeting, there was an incident in the West Bank that caused numerous checkpoints to close, and two of our Palestinian ladies were not able to join us. At the beginning of our time together, this fact cast a shadow on our meeting, a reminder of the challenges we encounter in spite of our best efforts to create spaces to meet at times that are suitable to everyone.
We started our meeting with ice-breakers to get to know one another, and we discussed our expectations and fears for this group. The women were open, even from the beginning. One lady commented, “I fear being called a Zionist, in a bad way.” Another remarked, “I fear that there will be an argument and someone will yell at me.” These early fears, once voiced, can be addressed, and we hope as the women get to know one another that their fears will be replaced with honest conversation and empathy.
Most of the women said that they came to the meeting because they have no opportunity to befriend someone from the other side; the only people they meet are laborers, settlers or soldiers. They long for a chance to talk, get to know each other, and learn about one another’s lives.
We discussed the Stages of Reconciliation and discussed some interesting questions, such as:
What do you feel when you meet a stranger for the first time?
What if the stranger is different from you – Palestinian or Israeli?
How does that feeling change if you know that the person from the other side is a Christian or believer?
We discussed these questions which brought up the topic of our own prejudices and stereotypes. We all have them, and this was an opportunity to deal with them.
We then discussed God’s expectations of us as believers when we deal with strangers, brothers and sisters in the faith, and even our enemies. This perspective sharpened our focus as we considered one another as fellow creations of God and sisters in the Messiah.
Afterwards, the Israeli group leader reflected, “I found that the group was very optimistic, which is interesting considering the current climate. They seemed very open to each other. It amazed me how many of the women even hope to see systemic change in our societies. It was an encouraging beginning.” The Palestinian group leader remarked, “My first impression is how open the Palestinians and Israelis are to get to know one another. The women are so loving and really want to get to know the other side.”
We are pleased to share that at this first meeting, we truly opened our hearts to say Ahlan “Welcome” to one another!
-Hedva Haimov, Musalaha Women’s Department
 While ahlan is used as a common greeting, it literally has a more expansive meaning than simply “welcome” and means “You are welcome to be part of my people.”